Myths About Writing

Once in awhile, as a now full-time novelist, I think it would be helpful to share myths about writing as I discover them.  I have a slew already, but I don’t want to overwhelm or bore anyone, so I will start with a few of my favorites:

MYTHS

1)  Only write about what you know.  Really?  I hope that Stephen King and James Patterson break this rule regularly.  Don’t write about serial killing, torture or horror unless you’ve done it?  Space travel?  Vampires, werewolves, pretty much any science fiction would be off the table.  In fact, no matter how simple your topic, it will include things you don’t know.  For instance, I have female characters in my stories, and what man on Earth REALLY understands how women think?

2)  You need to have an MFA and be an excellent literary writer.  I have made a point to read a lot of excellent authors, and I can tell you, some of the classics are pretty dense reading.  Just because you have elegant prose and punctuation does not make your characters or your stories interesting.  I would rather read pulp fiction comic books that are fun than sit through War and Peace, Jane Eyre or Moby Dick again.  Don’t get me wrong, those are three great writers, but the books are bit tough going, admit it.  Also, with respect to education, a famous author once said he was glad he did not go to literary school.  He would have been compared to Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, all the best of all time.  Other kids in the class would have been smarter than him and done better, he would have quivered in shame and quit.  Instead, he went on to sell millions of great books.

3)  Popular authors are sell outs and lousy writers.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard and unpublished author criticize Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling, I would still not have as much money as either of those two authors.  The fact is, hundreds of millions of people love their books and have enjoyed reading them and seeing their movie adaptations.  I consider that excellent writing.  Even if they never used a word over four letters long and got the punctuation wrong, it would still be great writing.  Isn’t pleasing the reader the ultimate goal?  I would love to write something the unpublished call drivel if it pleases millions of readers.

4)  E-books are not the same as “real” books.  My books are in both formats, and most of the short stories I have had published are also in both formats.  Oddly enough, all the words are exactly the same!  Amazing!  I admit that I prefer to hold a printed book in my hand, smell the pages (I know many of us do that, I just admit it), feel the turn of the page.  I love to read.  I also read on my android through Kindle, and it is a less comfortable read for me.  But in a generation, kids will laugh and mock us, “You mean you used to carry a stack of heavy books back and forth to school?  You used to fall asleep with a ten pound hard back over your face?”  “You carried one book at a time?”  They are going to have something a few ounces in weight with a whole library on it they can slip in their back pocket.  So who will feel stupid then?  Are we really arguing the horse and buggy will outlive the automobile, that men weren’t meant to fly?

Feel free to comment with your favorite myths about writing.

5 Comments

Filed under Humor and Observations, Writing

5 responses to “Myths About Writing

  1. Excellent listing! I think I can offer a short reply to each point.

    1) LOL I don’t think it should be taken so literal. In the case of King, he always wrote about Maine, right? And pretty much about situations he went through in daily life that he turned into something terrifying. Everything he wrote has been at some point based in common experiences. It’s why his brand of horror, like Lovecraft’s, is so effective.

    2) Agreed on this point. I am very much a self-taught writer. Sure, I had to make a lot of mistakes along the way, and some I still repeat, but I didn’t need a degree of any kind to enjoy telling a story.

    3) This is mostly a point art bigots make (I talked about this in my article “Shakes Gonzales and the Garbage Books”). They say popular fiction is manufactured, lacking any artistic skill or cultural merit. They are forgetting that they have a market and that people read them because, regardless of their skill or lack thereof, they enjoy themselves doing so.

    4) Personally, I’m not much of a reader of e-books, but I can comment on the state of the market. A lot of people criticize self-published authors for not working with the machine and skipping an entire process of selection and editing; these same people fail to realize that if the author indeed delivers poor quality, he or she /will not sell/. He doesn’t have a reputation to back him up. It’s all about what he can bring to each individual book, which eventually creates word-of-mouth publicity.

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    • Thanks for the comments. I had a tough childhood, kind of an understatement at that. My moments of fun were from reading heroic fantasy and science fiction. A sense of wonder, of escaping your own world that sucks, and being transported on a magical ride. That is what my goal is for writing – that others can find a time of peace and enjoyment while reading my books. My philosophy is encapsulated by the children’s story, the Magic School Bus. “Which button should we press next kids?”

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  2. Vinny

    All very big myths, though I would have to say for number one, knowing as much as you can about what you are writing only enhances it.

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  3. I’m pretty sure that the guy you kind of quote in #2 is Kurt Vonnegut and he is awesome. I read Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five and they are both funny and interesting. I think he studied Chemistry or something like that.
    And I agree with you especially #1. And another think that is kind of linked into this myth is that you have to make them all deep, deep, deep and you are not allowed, for some reason, to include a “plot” into your novel because it is supposed to have symbolism and metaphors and all kinds of strange things to be consider “real literature”. I can write about a war or a horse flying to the moon and both can be perfectly valid stories. Anyway, good post!

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  4. I spoke to another author who has over 40 books out and he said the character and character arc is everything. I asked, “So it makes no difference is the story of a guy cheating on his wife and getting divorced, or Luke Skywalker using the force to defeat a Galactic Empire?” He said, “No, it makes no difference.” I know characters are very important, don’t get me wrong, so are arcs, but the story has to mean something? I started reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter yesterday. I did not buy it because I heard the characters are good. I bought it because its freakin Abe Lincoln killing vampires… I hope the writing and characters are good, but as long as they are good enough, the story is the thing for me.

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